Free Speech Can Stop Sexism. You Just Have to Use Your Voice.

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In an old episode of Jeopardy, three celebrities were introducing their work after the first break. Harry Connick, Jr. was asked about acting versus singing. Nathan Lane was asked about Broadway roles originated by other actors. And Jodie Foster was asked about whether, after 30 films working with some of the best actors in the industry, there was a male actor she’d like to work with.

When she said, “Just you, Alex,” he followed it up with a question about being a mom.

Certainly, Alex Trebek wouldn’t have intentionally insulted Jodie Foster. She was a two-time Oscar-winner at the time and has since won the Cecil B. DeMille award as a director. She’s an incredibly accomplished film industry professional.

Recognizing the way men speak to one another about their professions and to women about chick stuff, is a new lens through which we can view a multitude of conversations.

For decades women have been achieving things in their professions and for decades they have been dismissed as women first: sexy, beautiful, motherly, shrewish, or bitchy.

That the conversation made it to the House of Representatives floor is ridiculous, and that the soundbites aired of that speech made Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sound like she was tattling on a colleague is also ridiculous.

Accepting so-called “locker room talk” or “boys will be boys” behavior, normalizing disrespect of women simply because they are women is the wrong direction for a civilized society.

We are the party of free speech. Nobody has to like what you have to say, for you to have the right to say it. And no one – not even law-happy AOC – is suggesting we legislate civil discourse.

What is at issue here is how we take responsibility for our actions in this country. When men do not hold themselves and others accountable for how they speak to and about women, they perpetuate this imbalance. This is not unlike Dr. Jorgensen’s assertion that we must be actively anti-racist. We must be actively anti-sexist. We must refuse to allow bullies to get away with dismissive or insincere apologies.

As Representative Ocasio-Cortez stated, “Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize. Not to save face, not to win a vote, he apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.”

Since when is apologizing, showing contrition, trying to make amends a sign of weakness?

When did we stop valuing dignity and respect and start valuing posturing and arrogance?

Politicians have always been ugly to one another. Heated discourse in pursuit of compromise, solutions, or even victory is expected of the profession. Personal attacks, dehumanizing one’s colleagues, or reducing them to gender stereotypes that evoke second-class status, or worse, sexual objectification, must be unacceptable.

Bravo to AOC for standing up for herself. It’s a shame Jodie Foster didn’t ask Mr. Trebek why he patronized her on national television.




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